San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, obscured, and defensive end Justin Smith (94) sack Chicago Bears quarterback Jason Campbell (2) during the first quarter of their NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Paul Kitagaki Jr.) MAGS OUT; LOCAL TV OUT (KCRA3, KXTV10, KOVR13, KUVS19, KMAZ31, KTXL40); MANDATORY CREDIT
I think it was early in the second quarter of the Bears’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night that I started watching the Bears’ offensive line.
No one ever watches an offensive line. It’s like watching bowling balls getting racked or pigs feeding.
Actually, it’s more boring than either of those things.
But this was must-watch stuff. This was surreal. This was entertainment of the rarest — and, yes, most embarrassing — kind. It was a sudden view into the cauldron where the iron is leaking, into the center of a combustion engine starting to throw rods and about to explode.
Either Bears left tackle J’Marcus Webb or right tackle Gabe Carimi was sent flying by one of the 49ers’ ‘‘Smith Brothers,’’ linebacker Aldon Smith or defensive end Justin Smith. OK, they’re not brothers. But they are united by the way they demolished the Bears’ O-line.
Abruptly, all the running and passing and strategy (was there any?) of the Bears became irrelevant. Nothing else mattered but the brawl in the pit.
Here was a show of Bears players in the trenches, the foundation of any football team, getting whipped the way stuffed teddy bears get whipped by pit bulls. There went Webb, again, slapped to the side by Aldon Smith, as if the 6-7, 333-pound lineman were a rubber dummy with a weight at the bottom. There went Aldon Smith around Carimi . . . no, correct that — there went Smith through Carimi in a fashion I don’t believe I’ve witnessed since Alan Page and Reggie White ruled the corner.
It was simply mesmerizing to see the Bears’ interior linemen get abused by the thick-necked Justin Smith, who helped hold the offense to an embarrassing 143 net yards. And always there was Aldon Smith, now smirking with his domination, ready to head full-speed toward poor Bears quarterback Jason Campbell.
It became a Catch-22 situation. The Bears couldn’t run the ball with Matt Forte, and they were behind by 17 points almost from the start, so they had to pass. And when a guy like Aldon Smith knows you have to pass, it’s like putting a chunk of rabbit meat in front of a ferret.
It was simply astounding to see the young man bull-rush, swim around or simply slap into irrelevance both Carimi and Webb. There’s a saying in football, from Pee-Wee leagues on up: Low man wins. It’s a stone-cold law. And there were the giant Webb and the 6-7, 316-pound Carimi immediately coming out of their stances, standing up and having a defender low and in charge lay waste to them.
Let’s not forget the importance of coaching in these situations, and Bears offensive line coach Tim Holt, offensive coordinator Mike Tice and head coach Lovie Smith all need to look in the mirror and ask what happened. But on the field, it’s the players themselves. Nor is it as if the other linemen — Roberto Garza, Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal — did a great job. It’s just that the main attack came from the outside, and Webb and Carimi were the pork chops on the plates.
‘‘We have to leave this game as quick as we possibly can because we didn’t do anything,’’ Lovie Smith (no relation) said after the 32-7 beating.
He’s right. And sometimes these odd whippings can come in the midst of good seasons and not be debilitating. For instance, the Bears lost 36-7 to the New England Patriots in 2010, when they went 11-5. And even when they were terrible, such as in 2002, when they finished 4-12, they only had two lopsided losses — 25-7 to the Minnesota Vikings and 27-9 to the Miami Dolphins. So a really terrible whipping, like this one, may be the aberration that gets set aside when starting quarterback Jay Cutler comes back and the O-line learns its lesson.
‘‘Oh, yeah, for sure,’’ Carimi said when asked if the O-line could fix itself. ‘‘We’ve got plenty of time. Next week, we’re going to come out and be ready for the Vikings.’’
Well, that doesn’t seem like plenty of time to me. It’s possible Aldon Smith is the best pass rusher of all time. His 29 sacks in the first 26 games of his career is the best for anyone, ever. He’s only 23, in his third season, and he might be a Hall of Famer. But nobody knows about that or his 51/2 sacks against the Bears.
What is certain is that Carimi and Webb had better figure something out, with their bosses, pronto, or this nightmare entertainment thing will define them and their team for a long time.